American officials warned over the weekend that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be just days away—but officials in Moscow said Monday that there could still be a diplomatic solution to the crisis and that talks with the US and NATO are "far from exhausted." "I would propose continuing and intensifying them," Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, told Vladimir Putin in what the BBC describes as a "carefully choreographed discussion on state television." The meeting could be a sign that Russia plans to use the Ukraine issue to gain concessions from the West instead of actually invading its neighbor, reports the New York Times.
A major sticking point is Russia's demand that NATO stop its eastward expansion and permanently block Ukraine from joining the alliance, which it restated Monday. Russia has also demanded that NATO removes its forces from eastern Europe. NATO has rejected those demands but the alliance has suggested there is room to negotiate on issues like arms control. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said Monday that the country has no intention of abandoning its ambition to join NATO, which is in Ukraine's constitution, the Washington Post reports. "The key issue for our country is the issue of security guarantees," the ministry said in a statement.
At a news conference in Kyiv with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said an attack on Ukraine would have "serious political, economic, and geostrategic consequences for Russia," the Post reports. Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the EU, told the Guardian Monday that Russia could invade if its citizens in contested areas of eastern Ukraine are threatened. "If the Ukrainians launch an attack against Russia, you shouldn't be surprised if we counterattack," the ambassador said. "Or, if they start blatantly killing Russian citizens anywhere." Over the weekend, Russian TV channels aired reports accusing Ukraine of committing atrocities against civilians in the long-running conflict in the Donbas region, the BBC notes. (Read more Ukraine stories.)